Freedom in Christ
The testimony in this chapter was given on
January 7, 2001, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
It is a miracle from the Lord that I can be here to speak to you today because I was down with a flu a few days ago. It seems that the flu has also affected many other people. It affected me very badly because for someone who has asthma (which I acquired in England about 30 years ago), getting a flu can cause serious complications. So it seemed that the possibility of my being here to speak today was not very high. So I wish to begin by sharing with you how the Lord has graciously made it possible for me to be here, and also to tell you what I learned through this experience.
I came to Kuala Lumpur a few days ago after having been at a full-time workers’ conference for three days. My physical condition had already become bad on the first night in Kuala Lumpur, and it was getting steadily worse; my temperature was rising very fast. As the fever rose to 102°, Helen and I prayed about the matter, committing it to God. At that time, something came to my mind: what the Lord Jesus did in Luke chapter 4. The mother-in-law of his disciple Simon Peter developed a fever; the account tells us specifically that she was “suffering from a high fever” (v.38). As I pondered about my situation, the words of what the Lord did came to my mind: “He rebuked the fever” (v.39). The fever was an oppressing power that had brought Peter’s mother down so that she was incapacitated, and the Lord rebuked the fever—and the fever left her. I found that remarkable. So I thought, “Well, didn’t the Lord instruct us to follow him also in what he did?” So I rebuked the fever in the Lord’s name (this means to claim God’s power to do it; see for example Acts 4:7). I hadn’t done this before; I very rarely get a fever. After rebuking the fever, Helen and I prayed together. By then it was early in the morning (about 2.30 a.m.) and I soon fell asleep.
Never Use God’s Power for Personal Gain
But before I went to sleep, a thought crossed my mind; it was about another principle. In following the teaching in Scripture, we have to be sure we have correctly taken into account all the relevant principles applicable to a particular situation, and I now realized that I may have missed something important. And that was: Should I have rebuked the fever in my case? What do you think? Why is there a problem? The problem lies in this: A servant of God should not use the power that God has entrusted to him in such a way that it benefits himself personally, that is, he should not seek to profit from it. That is why the Lord Jesus, when he was hungry after 40 days of fasting and was tempted in the wilderness, though he had the power to turn stone into bread, refused to do so. The devil’s temptation was intended to make Jesus use his power for his own benefit. This important principle had escaped me and I immediately repented before the Lord and said, “Lord, I am sorry. In my concern to drive out the fever I had forgotten the other principle. I should not have used Your power for my own benefit.” I asked the Lord’s forgiveness, and then fell asleep.
When I woke in the morning, my wife, who is a nurse, took my temperature again and the temperature was still well over 100°. In other words, nothing had happened. But about two hours or so later, I suddenly felt, “What happened to the fever?” I asked my wife to take my temperature again. The fever had vanished. It was gone! The sudden disappearance of the fever surprised us. This was checked three more times over the next few hours; each time the temperature was normal. The fever had indeed gone. As I pondered over this, I thought about how God dealt with this matter according to His wisdom and mercy. He saw that I had repented; I had asked Him to forgive me that I had used His power for my own benefit. I had first misappropriated His great power, and only afterwards realized my error and repented. So He did not drive out the fever at first; when I woke up the temperature was still over 100°. But after I had learnt my lesson, He drove out the fever. In other words, God was saying to me, “Yes, you shouldn’t have used My power for your own benefit, but you repented and I have forgiven you. I have driven out the fever not because you claimed My power, but because of My mercy and grace alone. I do it only because of My own mercy.”
We must understand the difference between asking God for something that is according to His will and presumptuously claiming and using His power to gain something we ourselves have decided is good for us and for others. Sadly, many Christians cannot distinguish between these two totally different things. Some even ignorantly call the presumptuous misappropriation of God’s power “faith”. A faith that is not wholly obedient to God’s will is not “faith” as far as God is concerned. Could God not have given me the strength to preach even with a fever, if that is His will? I recall that some 20 years ago I did, in fact, preach while having a fever. I was preaching in a city in Western Canada where it was quite cool at that time, yet I was drenched in sweat because of the fever. Somehow I was so focused on preaching the word of God that I didn’t even remember to ask God to remove the fever. Does this mean I had less faith at that time as compared to now, or that I was less obedient to His will? By the grace of God, I don’t think that was the case.
Jesus, Sent by God to Set the Captives Free
I thank God from my heart that in all these years of walking with Him, I have experienced the ways of the living God. It is truly remarkable. Following this most recent experience, the Lord lays it on my heart to base my testimony today on this same chapter, Luke 4, which I mentioned earlier, and in which the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law from her fever is recorded towards the end of that chapter. The driving out of the fever was one of Jesus’ earliest miracles. But chapter 4 begins with the words of the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus uses those remarkable words to announce the commencement of his ministry. These words sum up the nature of Jesus’ whole ministry, and so he read them aloud to the congregation in the synagogue. Here is what he read out to them:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19)
In these few short lines which the congregation heard, something is repeated twice. In Scripture this kind of repetition means that we need to pay attention to what is repeated (in this case, with the same meaning, though not the same words) for the sake of emphasis. Notice the words, “He (God) has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,” and then again, “to let the oppressed go free.” These two statements have identical meaning even if the wording is not exactly identical. The idea is to release captives, to set people free, and this is further emphasized by the liberating of the blind from the incapacitating effects of their blindness; and still further by the proclamation of “the year of the Lord’s favor,” also known as “the year of Jubilee,” which came every 50 years in Israel; in that year all debts were forgiven and slaves were released. It means that all these four statements express the same essential truth: Jesus was sent by God to set every kind of captive free.
Living in Bondage
One of the most fearful things in life is the bondage or slavery of addiction. We are more familiar with drug addiction, but there are all kinds of addiction. I can say without fear of contradiction that everyone is under some form of addiction. You might not be addicted to heroin or cocaine or alcohol, but everyone is under addiction or bondage of some sort. The great tragedy is that we are often blind to our own situation. That is why in the middle of these two statements about being freed from oppression, you have the statement, “recovery of sight to the blind.” In this context, it should not be taken to mean that Jesus was concerned only with healing the physically blind, as if that was the only kind of miracle he was interested in. No, the reference here is not primarily to the physical but to the spiritual. The problem is that we are under bondage without knowing that we are under bondage.
The frightening thing about the bondage of addiction is the capturing of the will. You start out with a little bit of alcohol or whatever it is that you take, and then you gradually become addicted to it. Some people can take wine or alcohol without problem; the French people usually drink when they have their meals, and many of them drink every day without being addicted to alcohol, but there are others who cannot do that. In other words, some things are addictive to some people but not to others. It doesn’t affect them. That is the strange thing. In part it depends on the reason you use a substance. If people use alcohol to “drown out” their problems and miseries, they could soon develop a dependency in dealing with their problems, and this dependency will become an addiction.
Self-centeredness is Bondage
There are other kinds of bondage. I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that every human being is in bondage to himself or herself, in bondage to self-interest; in other words, to selfishness. Every person is selfish until God does something with him. He is always addicted to selfishness. The ego, the self, is always central. What that does in a society is not hard to see. When everybody cares only for himself or herself, nobody will care for others, at least not if the other person’s interest has no bearing on his own. The self-centered principle is that I care for somebody else only if that person’s interests happen to affect me or coincide with my interests—then of course I care, because that person’s welfare is intertwined with mine. That is where the root problem of human society lies. Jesus came to create a new kind of society in which God’s command to love the neighbor as oneself is meant to be implemented. But this is impossible in a self-centered society. It is impossible until we are changed, until we are transformed. That is why the Gospel is about change and transformation; it can’t be done until we are liberated, until we are freed from our selfishness and self-centeredness.
The Gospel has to do with freedom, true spiritual freedom. To be free outwardly does not mean that one is also inwardly free. The one who is under bondage to sin is certainly a slave inwardly, enslaved in heart and mind, whatever his outward circumstances may be. In Scripture (and in experience) sin is equal to slavery. To those who suffer under the bondage of sin, the good news is that Jesus came to release the captives, to let the oppressed go free.
Have You Been Freed?
How many truly free Christians do you know? If you belong to a church, at least you will know how many such Christians there are in your church. Let us be honest. How many would you say are free people? The great problem is that we may not even know what is true freedom, so we don’t know that we are under an addiction. That is a consequence of spiritual blindness. We are in a pitiful situation. Like a fish in a tank, does it know or even care that it is not free? After all, there are other fish swimming around with it, other colorful and lively fish; and they don’t seem to be living in fear at all, in fact they look quite happy there. There are structures in the tank that look like coral, though they are not real coral but only something like it. And there are varieties of green vegetation contributing to the beauty of the aquarium. Of course, food is also provided. So the fish adapts to life within the confined environment of the tank.
If you send these fish back into the ocean, to the coral reefs of their natural habitat, would all these colorful fish know the difference? The point is this: When people become accustomed to, and are comfortable with, a confined state of life, they will neither know nor care that they are prisoners. Do you know what is freedom? Have we become so comfortable in our confining environment that we don’t find it oppressive or even limiting? The spiritual walls that lock us in have become the home in which we are accustomed to living. We can hardly imagine life outside these walls and perhaps don’t really care to know. We have enough to keep us occupied within the confines of our aquarium world. But what are the consequences of this mentality?
Freedom to Grow
My wife and I were once looking at an aquarium. You have certainly visited pet shops where they have aquariums, and sometimes we would stroll in to take a look at the colorful fish. Once I saw a small fish that I thought looked like a shark. A shark? In an aquarium? Well, I have seen quite a few sharks in open water, and my contact with them is not very comfortable when they are rather large. I also encountered a few sharks (white tips) while snorkeling off the east coast of Malaysia. One or two got a bit too interested in me. When they reach 4 or 5 feet in length, they can take quite a good bite out of you (although white tips don’t have a reputation for attacking people).
But I have also seen baby sharks near beaches. And when I looked at the fish in the aquarium, I said to my wife, “That looks like a shark.” Well, it turns out that it was in fact a shark—the shop confirmed it. But how big was the shark? Not your 4 or 5 feet variety, which certainly wouldn’t fit into the tank in the pet shop. The tiny sharks were not longer than 6 inches, some even smaller. Six-inch sharks in a fish-tank! I had never seen that before. I was wondering why a shark swimming in an aquarium was not eating up the other fish. Well, for one thing, it is too small to eat any other fish. At 5 or 6 inches, it would be happy if some other bigger fish doesn’t eat it up first!
But how do you get a shark to live its whole life in a fish tank? Wouldn’t it grow too big for the tank? I later read about it and was surprised to find out that if you take a shark out of the ocean, and put it in an aquarium when it is still small, it never grows big. It matures; but even when it is mature, it won’t get much bigger than 6 inches. Well, that was a surprise to me. But if you take that same shark earlier on in its life and you let it out into the ocean, it could grow to 8 feet in length. In other words, the confined condition, nice as it is in the aquarium, and in which the fish is comfortable, protected, and well fed, actually keeps the shark from growing. The shark adapts to the aquarium and stays small like all the other fish swimming around. But if it had been released into the open sea, that same fish could have become an 8-foot shark. I was surprised to read that. “Live and learn” as they say. Being a certified scuba diver, I thought I had some knowledge of the oceans, but obviously there is still a lot to learn.
Freedom to Reach Our Potential
The point is that there are churches full of people who live in an environment that is protected, cared for, and comfortable; but often as a direct consequence of this, they never grow spiritually. They are not even aware there is any problem, precisely because it is so comfortable to live in that environment. But a shark is not meant to be 6 inches at maturity. A white-tip shark in its natural habitat can grow to 8 feet. The great white is much bigger than that, but we are talking about this particular variety. So, too, many Christians spend all their lives in an environment in which they are comfortable but never reach the potential that God wants for them. There are many such Christians.
In fact, the open sea is a dangerous place, even for sharks, especially baby sharks. There are many creatures that can eat baby sharks. Sharks are a lot harder to eat when they are 8 feet long, though even at that length it is known that they can be attacked by orcas, better known as killer whales. In any case, it takes them a long time to reach 8 feet, doesn’t it? And many are eaten long before they get to that length. Baby sharks are eaten by bigger fish, so they dare not venture out into open water.
I saw many baby sharks along the east coast of Malaysia; they stay very close to the shore for safety; they hug the coastline and dare not go to deeper water where the bigger fish live. But at least they are in the ocean, not in an aquarium, so they will keep growing larger in relative safety among the smaller fish nearer the shore. They will venture out as they get larger.
Many Christians stay in the almost complete safety of their “fish tanks,” without ever thinking of venturing out by faith into the wider world outside. They remain captive to their own fears. They want a secure and comfortable life within the social circle of fellow Christians. You can have that comfortable existence (though life in a fish tank is not without its internal problems, but they are different from those in the sea)—but you are going to spend the rest of your life as a 6-inch Christian.
What does Jesus want us to become? Why are some servants of God extraordinary while multitudes of Christians don’t seem to go anywhere? The secret lies in these words: “I came to set the captives free.” Do you know that you are a captive? Captive to what? Find out the things that keep you in bondage, and call upon the Lord to make you what He intends you to be. I hope, even if nothing else is accomplished through this message, that at least some of you will say, “Okay, I have had enough of this nice aquarium life. Lord, set me free to attain whatever it is You want me to become.” This has always been my goal, my purpose. I don’t want to have anything within myself, or anything around me, which will cramp me into some form of bondage, including religious bondage.
Sadly, religion can be a real bondage, whether in the form of rigid human traditions or narrow-minded legalism which have nothing to do with spirituality, and indeed hinder true spirituality. It needs to be understood that being religious is not at all the same as being spiritual. The religious person is content to stay in his religious “fish tank” community, though he may transfer occasionally to another similar fish tank for one reason or another. But the spiritual man’s life is governed by God, and he goes wherever God wants him to go, yes, even out into the sea. Let God set us free to follow Him wherever He takes us.
Now we can understand another aspect of Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15; in verse 17 he says it is through “those who believe” that he will do his work; see the parallel command in Matthew 28:19). We usually think of this as a command to evangelize, not realizing that it is vital for our spiritual growth. And we often think that the command to “go” is for other Christians, not for us. This kind of thinking is the fish tank mentality. We have not yet understood and applied the message of the Parable of the Fish Tank and the Sea, as we could call it. However, going “into all the world” does not necessarily mean that we must go into the deepest ocean or to the other end of the world right away. Initially, God may want us to remain nearer to the shoreline, perhaps in our own city or locality. When we have grown spiritually, we will be ready to go further out.
I sometimes wonder how the Lord Jesus feels. He “came to set the captives free,” but when he looks at his people today and sees that most of them are captives, like those in Egypt, how would he feel? But they were comfortable in Egypt. Soon after they had come out of Egypt, they were grumbling and moaning. They wanted to go back to Egypt. Bondage can be comfortable. The amazing thing is that the Israelites were happy with living in bondage. It seemed to them much safer than going out into the parched deserts and an unknown future in distant lands, not to mention the toils of an exhausting and dangerous journey. They were not keen to leave Egypt; it was God who took them out. Amazing, isn’t it? Yes, they were under Egyptian bondage; yes, it was a hard life, but it was relatively safe, and came with basic comforts and enjoyments—such as their favorite garlic and leeks.
But the mentality of the Israelites is not really so hard to understand. Consider this: You work hard at the office, don’t you? It is a hard life. You work many hours a day, you sweat it out, your boss scolds you but you dare not talk back. In the church you talk back, but not at the office. After all, in the church when you talk back, you don’t lose your bowl of rice. But if you talk back at the office, your job is gone. So you are well-behaved in the office. You accept the bondage under this boss, though he may be nasty, because he gives you a good pay, right? He expects you to work yourself into the ground, and you find that quite reasonable, right? You might even enjoy a life of bondage. All this illustrates how we become accustomed to bondage, and accept it, and become comfortable with it. But this type of bondage, which is of the external kind (though not entirely unrelated to the spiritual kind), is not our main concern here; it is used here only as an illustration to show how we can become accustomed to spiritual bondage, which is a much greater cause for concern.
If you are so comfortable in bondage, even to the extent that it doesn’t feel like being in bondage, and you are no longer aware of it, then it is time to let God open your eyes to see what is your true spiritual condition.
God Wants to Set Us Free
God wants to set us free from every kind of bondage; and the spiritual purpose of all the physical healings that you read about in the Bible is to show that He can set us free from any kind of oppression, physical or spiritual. The chief purpose of all healing in the Bible is spiritual not physical. But the pervasiveness of physical illness helps us to understand the seriousness of the problem. Physical illness is one of the greatest kinds of suffering and oppression human beings live under. In Canada where we have something like a social welfare system, the cost of paying for this system is simply mind-boggling. It runs into billions of dollars every year. Sickness is a costly and terrible oppression. People are driven by their suffering to seek relief from sickness, disease, injury, and disability. In Canada every time a person sees a doctor it costs the government $50. If the government doesn’t pay, the patient has to pay the $50, and we are talking about 50 Canadian dollars. And this is just for the doctor to see you; it does not include medication or anything else. Sickness is a dreadful bondage, so when Jesus healed the sick, the message which his healing proclaimed was, “I am the one who sets you free from all bondage by God’s saving power working through me.”
Breathless in Liverpool
One of the things God taught me in England, after I had moved from London to Liverpool, was a new understanding about sickness and health. It was the Lord who led me to Liverpool, but it was not I who wanted to go. There was a small handful of people in Liverpool who pleaded with me to go help them. After much reluctance, I went there as God led. But as soon as I arrived in Liverpool, I was sick. I had hardly set foot in Liverpool and I was already sick. Now I should let you know that I was very fit and I hardly knew what the word “sickness” meant. Since about the age of five, I had never been sick, and I could not remember even having had a headache. Medicine is one subject that never crossed my mind to study; I was simply too healthy to be interested in diseases. I didn’t think of such things. But I was amazed that as soon I stepped into Liverpool, I got sick. I had very serious breathing problems. As soon as I left Liverpool, the problem would be gone. My wife was working in a hospital in London at that time, so I had access to a specialist for bronchial problems. He examined me and said, “There is nothing wrong with you.” So I asked, “Why do I have these problems whenever I go to Liverpool?” He answered, “Pollution.” There was a serious problem of industrial pollution in Liverpool, and I was allergic to that pollution. And indeed, when I went back to Liverpool I was sick right away.
One night I woke up, after having hardly slept for more than an hour or two, because of severe breathing difficulties. I was struggling for one breath of air, and was thinking, “What is going on here? How is it I can’t breathe?” I didn’t want to wake up my wife because I felt she needed her sleep, so I just struggled on trying to breathe. Hour after hour I struggled on. I never knew that one breath of air could be so precious. When you are well, you sit there and breathe, and never give it another thought. But when you cannot get that one breath of air, let me tell you, the feeling of desperation is really amazing. In the morning when my wife woke up and saw me lying there, I was blue in the face. She had a shock, a fright. She looked at me but I couldn’t talk. She rushed off to look for a doctor. The doctor came and, of course, having been in Liverpool for many years, he knew right away what the problem was—an acute attack of asthma.
I didn’t know what it was; I had no previous experience of asthma. The doctor prescribed some medication for me, and in a very short time all the symptoms disappeared. He told me that if I don’t want to get chronic asthma, I should leave Liverpool as soon as possible. But I had already promised the church that I will come here. How am I going to leave now? So I had to stay on, which I saw as my obligation. After five years in Liverpool the church was built up and I had trained someone else to take over the work from me, but by then I was stuck with chronic asthma. I could never get rid of it again. I felt that this was a price I had to pay for serving the Lord, and taste a little of the fellowship of the Lord’s suffering.
Yes, I could have saved my health. I remember my mother pleading with me with tears in her eyes when she saw me going through an asthmatic attack. She said, “Please, please leave Liverpool.” I said, “Well, I can’t leave the brothers and sisters, can I? Who is going to look after them?” In fact, God had made it clear to me that He had sent me to serve Him there for five years. After those five years, He sent me to Canada. By that time the asthma had become chronic, permanent. But I was granted the privilege of having a small share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.
Just recently I read about crucifixion, and there was one aspect of crucifixion I hadn’t known about, namely, that when a person is crucified, apart from all the agony of the nails going through hands and feet, what it does to the whole body, not just the hands and feet, is even more agonizing. This is described by the medical specialist who wrote about crucifixion. He says what happens is that as the person hangs on the cross in agony, it does something extremely traumatic to the body and this can cause fluid to build up in the area of the lungs, around the heart. This may explain why both blood and water flowed out when Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear (John 19.34). What happens when fluid builds up in the chest is that it becomes hard to breathe because of the fluid pressing against the lungs. That was an aspect of crucifixion I didn’t know about, and as I read it, I saw that this is exactly how you feel when you are having an asthmatic attack. You just can’t breathe; you gasp for air. And then I realized that for the Lord Jesus to say those seven sayings from the cross was in itself a wonder because you can hardly talk when you are out of breath, and it is exhausting to say anything. I realized that the suffering of asthma, of being unable to breathe, was an agony the Lord Jesus experienced on the cross. He bore our sufferings. He knows what it is like, and he did that to set us free.
The Compassion of the Lord, our Redeemer: Four Cases of Healing
So it was in Liverpool that I began to experience this matter of health and sickness, and not only in myself but in at least four cases of healing I would like to share with you as examples of the Lord’s compassion. Why does God set us free? It is out of His compassion. What is compassion? Well, if you have experienced it, you would know what it is; you feel for someone’s suffering, for someone’s pain, for someone’s agony. Now why should we selfish people care about anyone else’s suffering as long as it doesn’t affect us? Compassion is something that God puts into our hearts (Romans 5.5); it is not native to the human heart.
One Sunday evening, I received a phone call from someone in our church and he said to me, “Please, will you go to the hospital quickly because my mother is there with a cerebral hemorrhage” (that is, bleeding in the brain, generally called a stroke). So he asked me, “Will you please go to the hospital to see my mother?” I said, “Yes, I will go.” I went to the hospital and there was this middle-aged woman lying there, paralyzed from the neck down with a stroke. I looked at her and asked, “Would you like me to pray for you?” And she blinked her eyes, nodding slightly. She was lying on a trolley (in North America called a gurney, a wheeled stretcher) waiting to be put on a hospital bed, but they had already done some tests on her. As you may know, the normal procedure is to extract spinal fluid, which used to be a painful procedure (the very thin needles used today were not available at that time) in which a needle was put in between the vertebrae and into the spinal column to extract fluid; the presence of blood in the fluid is evidence of a hemorrhage or stroke.
They confirmed that she had had a stroke. The tests had just been done, and she was there on this trolley and that was when I prayed for her. After I had prayed for her, she experienced immediate release.
Now consider this: Paralyzed by a stroke so that you can’t move anymore—can physical bondage get much worse than that? If someone shackles your hands behind your back, you can still move, at least the rest of your body can. If someone tied your feet, you can still move the rest of your body. But to be paralyzed is to have all freedom of movement removed. When I had prayed to God for her in Jesus’ name, she had immediate release. In other words, she was healed.
But could the doctor believe it? “It can’t be. We just did the test. We know she had a stroke. She was paralyzed.” But she wanted to sit up. Can you imagine the scene in the hospital? The doctor wouldn’t permit it, “Oh no! Don’t move, just lie there.” So the poor lady had to lie there; and after a while she said to me, “I’m hungry. I would like to eat something.” So I asked the hospital staff, “Could you give her something to eat?” “Sorry, no food. She is not allowed to eat.” So I told her, “Sorry, you can’t get anything to eat. The doctor wouldn’t allow it.” So how long does she have to lie there? From Sunday night until when? Until Wednesday! Her back got sore from lying there. She was constantly told not to move. Even though she could move, they wouldn’t let her.
So what happened on Wednesday? Because this was a big teaching hospital, on Wednesdays the professor would come with his students in tow, and they go from bed to bed to examine the patients while the professor explains things to the students. When they came to her bed, they looked at her, examined her and then huddled together for quite a long discussion. They called in the doctor who was in charge and said, “What is this woman doing here? There is nothing wrong with her.” “But we did all the tests on her; she had a stroke on Sunday.” So they looked at the test results which confirmed that what the doctor said was true. Well, you can imagine that this was a real mystery to them. After another long discussion among themselves, the poor lady, who had to endure several days lying on her back, was finally told to get up and go home. All this happened 30 years ago, and this dear sister in the Lord is still there in Liverpool today. She is fine today even well into her seventies. She had experienced God’s compassion and power to set her free. That was one of my first experiences of healing. It was for me a remarkable example of God’s mercy and kindness.
There was another case where a woman in our church, a restaurant owner, called me and said, “My mother is in agonizing pain, she has a large tumor in her abdomen in the area of the womb, and she is due for surgery next week. But the pain is unbearable and painkillers don’t help much.” Many of you know that there are certain kinds of pain that not even painkillers, even the most powerful kind, can do much to help. Her mother was in terrible agony, so she asked, “Would you come and please pray for my mother?” I went with my coworker and we saw that she was suffering intense pain. She was not a believer at that time, so we explained to her that we would pray for her but she must put her trust in God, because it is He who heals, not us. We prayed for her. A few days later she came to our Sunday service in church, full of joy. The hospital had arranged for her to have surgery, so she had to return to the hospital about two days after visiting our church. After we prayed for her, she had no more pain. When she arrived at the hospital, she was x-rayed and thoroughly examined again, but the huge tumor that was supposed to be in her womb had disappeared into the thin air, it was nowhere to be seen. They looked at the previous x-rays, and compared them with her new x-rays, and what happened? How marvelous are the ways of the Lord, how great His mercy.
The third case has to do with a nurse in our church. We had a Bible study in the hospital for nurses, and she was one of the nurses who regularly attended that Bible study. She called me and said she had terrible pain in her upper lip, a tumor was growing there. There was a long list of people waiting for surgery, but because she was a member of the hospital staff, the hospital arranged for her to have an emergency operation on the next day. But she told me, “The pain is driving me crazy. I can’t wait until tomorrow. And the painkiller is not doing anything.” I asked her, “What does God tell you? Have you prayed about this?” She said, “Yes. I looked at the passage in the gospels where someone said to Jesus, ‘If you are willing, you can cleanse me (of leprosy),’ and the Lord said, ‘I am willing,’” so he was cleansed and healed (Matthew 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-42; Luke 5:12-13). I said, “All right. If the Lord’s word is speaking to you in your present situation, I will come now and pray.”
I went down to the hospital and prayed for her and the pain disappeared in a flash, it was gone in an instant. Then the same thing happened as happened in the previous case: On the next day when she was to be operated on, they found that the tumor had vanished, it was gone! Tumors are very unpleasant and potentially dangerous lumps or growths, whether small or large, of physical material. Anyone who has worked in a hospital or clinic knows that tumors don’t have the habit of vanishing into the thin air. They are not psychological or emotional states that can be there one moment and disappear the next moment. How can tumors disappear instantly except by the power of God?
I remember another case. My mother had migraines. Some of you would know what a migraine is; it is a terrible headache that affects some people, and it sometimes lasts for days. It causes dreadful pain. I was visiting my mother at the time, and one day she had an attack of migraine. When I looked at her, my heart couldn’t take it; I could see a large vein on her forehead standing out. Tears from the pain were in her eyes. She sat there in agony. And I said to God, “Lord, surely You don’t expect me, Your servant, to sit here and watch my mother suffer like this and do nothing? I call out to You that You, in Your great mercy, will be pleased to release her from her pain.” I asked her if she would like me to pray for her; she nodded.
At this time my mother hadn’t yet known the Lord, she was still an unbeliever and hadn’t shown much interest in spiritual things. In fact, she seemed to be a hard-core unbeliever with whom it was almost impossible to talk about anything spiritual. But now she needed to be released from this unspeakable pain that was holding her in its agonizing grip. I prayed for her. The pain went away instantly. In a flash it was gone. I still remember the astonished look on her face. I guess she thought I would pray for her because that was the sort of thing you would do for someone who is sick or in pain as a way to comfort them. What she never expected was the instant release by the power and kindness of the Lord. That is evidently the reason for the look of utter surprise on her face. One moment she was in agony, the next moment she was free. I think this was one of the contributing factors that led her to come to God later.
I wish to make it clear, however, that though by God’s grace I have exercised His power to heal people, I am not a “faith healer”. What is the difference? A big difference! A faith healer is someone who makes healing the central element of his ministry. Healing is not the central element in my ministry; it has only a relatively small place in it. The Gospels do not give us the impression that Jesus usually went about looking for people to heal; but a great many people suffering from all kinds of illnesses came to him for healing. His ministry was to proclaim the gospel and to teach the word of God; but out of compassion he healed those whom he met, or who came to him, as he went from place to place in the course of his ministry. These acts of compassion served as “signs” or messages from God, that God’s salvation is now made available in Christ to all men. For Jesus, the acts of healing were secondary to the ministry of preaching the message of life. Moreover, given the character of human nature, sometimes the working of miracles can have undesirable results. For example, Jesus fed 5,000 people in the wilderness out of compassion for their hunger, but the result was that the people wanted to make him king by force (John 6:15).
Bondage to Insecurity?
Let us now continue to consider this matter of being freed from all forms of oppression. Many things oppress us, including the sense of fear and insecurity. There is a long list of things that hold us in bondage. Fear, for example, is a very powerful element. Life insurance is a multi-billion dollar business in the world. Without fear in the world, insurance of that kind wouldn’t have much business, would it? Of course, so-called life insurance cannot guarantee you against death. It only says that if you get killed, your family might get a million dollars or whatever it is you are insured for. Fear of death can be a powerful factor in people’s minds, as also the fear of losing the things that are precious to us. We insure our property; this is even compulsory in many countries. You have to insure your car, though what level of insurance (comprehensive or third party) is up to you; of course, we prefer higher insurance if our car is an expensive one. If you drive an old car, as I do, there is no point in going for maximum insurance; you take the minimum insurance required by law.
Losing My Car
In Liverpool one Sunday evening after church service, I went to the church center to do something for a few minutes, and parked my car just a few steps from the entrance. Ten minutes later I came out and the car was gone! (On a previous occasion I mentioned about the theft of my motorcycle. That was when I was in London.) By now time I had graduated to a car and although it was old, it was in very good condition. Ten minutes in the church center and the car had disappeared! Now, how would you feel? Oh, the anxiety of having lost something! There is first the fear that you might lose something, and when you have actually lost it, what turmoil you feel. But the thing that bothered me was not the car; it was my Bible in the car. You ask, “What?” Yes, my Bible. “But how much does a Bible cost?” Well, my Bible was priceless to me, because inside it were thousands of notes, literally thousands. On every page, there could be dozens of notes, all handwritten. All the notes were numbered, and the numbers link the notes to Bible verses. It represented years of hard work. They can take the car but give me back my Bible!
I still remember my daughter’s surprise when she heard me say that. She was a little girl about 4 years old. When the car got stolen, she was shocked. How could anyone steal a car? To her, if somebody stole your teddy bear, that would almost be a crime punishable by death, but a car? It was simply mind-boggling for her. But when I told her, “Daddy is not worried about the car; he is concerned about his Bible,” she was even more astonished. How much is a Bible worth? In this way we convey to our children the things that are of value to us. The Bible represented years of work. I had written so many notes in it over the years that there was no more space in the margins. So I had to have a separate expandable notebook. This notebook, in its protective cover, was becoming almost as thick as the Bible. Since these notes were all linked to the Bible by numbers, you can see that if I lose the Bible, I could have a lot of problems in using my notes. On this occasion my notebook was left at home.
I said to my daughter, “Let’s pray that Daddy gets his Bible back, all right?” She saw that also in prayer I was more concerned about the Bible than the car. Children’s prayers are effective; the Lord takes delight in listening to children’s prayers. They are so much more uncomplicated, so much purer compared to grown-ups. They seem to have a more direct access to the Father. Their angels stand near to God our Father, as Jesus tells us (Matthew 18:10, cf. vv.5, 6). A few days later I received a call from the police who informed me, “We have found your car; you can come and collect it.” I rushed to the police station looking for my Bible. To my great joy the Bible was there. The car came back with some slight damage, but nothing very serious.
God’s Word: The Truth that Sets Us Free
I share this with you because the central secret of my ministry is the word of God. I don’t worship the Bible, I worship God. If you worship God, you will listen to His word. But to obey His word you need to know what it teaches. Many Christians dare not launch out into the world by faith because they don’t know God or know His word. Jesus said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). I have spent many years of my life studying the Bible, and I want to mention this because many Christians, even if they have been in church for many years, have a pitiful (and, indeed, often inexcusable) lack of knowledge of God’s word; consequently they are ineffective and fruitless in His church.
I recall three important periods in my life when the Lord put me aside to study His word. One was a period in China of at least two years, when I could do nothing except study the Bible. I delighted in the study of the Word. But initially I couldn’t understand it. If you are a young Christian, you would have had that kind of experience. You read the Bible and you don’t know what it is saying. I was given a King James Version Bible which, because it was published some 350 years earlier (in 1611) and uses the English of that time, did not help to make things clearer. Even though my English was not that bad, and even though I could understand King James English not too badly, there were certain important points where the meaning didn’t make too much sense to me. And I recall that I knelt down before God and said, “Lord, I don’t understand what Your word is saying, will you please open my understanding?” During those two years, a lot of time was devoted to studying the word of God. One of my joys is that after all these many years, I still have some of the notes I wrote at that time when I was a very young Christian; and when I read them much later on, I could only say, “Surely I did not discover all that by myself. Clearly God was already teaching me in those days.”
The second period was in the Bible Institute in Scotland. For two years I studied the word of God every day. Although we had our classes in which all the usual Bible college subjects were taught, frankly I did not feel I benefited much from most of them. What I found most beneficial was the time I spent in my room studying the word of God for myself. That was another two years.
There was a third period of time when God put me aside in London to be quiet. This was after the time in Bible College in London, and after the years at university studying academic subjects. The Lord granted me three years after all those studies where I could again just focus day after day upon meditating on the word of God. During this time many more notes were added to my Bible as God led me deeper into His truth. The importance of the Bible, the word of God, is that in it we learn of God’s truth, and as Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus is concerned about spiritual freedom, and this freedom is experienced by those who follow him.
Read the Testimonies ~ God Can Do the Same for You
Let me share about someone else’s testimony, testifying to the same truth. I love to read testimonies because I learn from other people what they experienced. I find it so wonderful to see what God is doing in other people’s lives, it refreshes me no end. Recently, I read the testimony of a Chinese brother who went through a lot of suffering in China for the Lord’s sake; and it left me very humbled because I felt that no way have I suffered as much for the Lord as has this dear brother. He endured beatings, starvation and humiliation for many years. He was in his late twenties when he was first arrested and imprisoned. He had been going from place to place preaching the gospel; he was arrested, released, arrested again for preaching, beaten, and humiliated.
One day God did an amazing thing for him, by setting him free from prison. He had been locked up many times already; and when he was locked up on this occasion, he had endured so much that I think the Lord felt it was really enough; he had endured as much as he could bear. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we read:
God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted (or tested) beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted (or tested), He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1Corinthians 10:13)
In this case, the Lord literally provided “a way out”. This brother was in solitary confinement for most of the time because every time they put him in a prison cell with others, many of the prisoners got converted. Do you know what happened one day when he was alone in his cell? The chains suddenly fell off his wrists. Then God opened the doors, and he walked out of prison through seven sets of gates. They all opened up in front of him! So he experienced what the apostle Peter had experienced when the Lord did much the same thing for him, freeing him from his chains and opening the prison gates so that he walked out to freedom (Acts 12.7-10). Yes, the Lord came to set the captives free, literally, physically and spiritually. In fact, I talked to this brother personally on the phone just recently. He visited our Liverpool Church. The coworkers told me, “This brother is here in Liverpool. Would you like to talk to him on the phone?” I said, “Yes.” And so we had a conversation over the phone and he invited me to visit him.
The Lord saves us not only from external or physical bondage but even more importantly from inner bondage. And there was the case of a Swiss doctor whom I had come to know. I once visited him in Switzerland and he said, “I would like to tell you my story. You know, I was a drunkard. Even though I am a medical doctor, I started with a little wine but it turned out that I am one of those people who easily gets addicted to alcohol.” He became addicted and couldn’t stop drinking. He had to drink more and more until he was spending most of his income from his medical practice to pay for his addiction. In Switzerland, as in many countries, alcohol was heavily taxed, so it was very expensive. One day he found that he had no money to give to his wife for the children’s daily needs. He said his wife came to him one morning and said, “I have nothing to give to the children for breakfast. Have you got any money somewhere?” He said, “I haven’t.” She said, “Then the children will have to go hungry today.” He felt very depressed because he felt he was a complete failure in life. His three children were growing up, and could see a father who was constantly drunk. He barely managed to carry out his medical practice because half the time he was unable to function properly, so his income was reduced as his expenses increased.
He said, “You know, the last straw came one day when my son had a little cut on his hand and came to me. I looked at the cut and said to him, ‘Ah, that is nothing. Go away. Don’t bother me with these little things.’” The next day his son came down with a fever, and he realized that his son was suffering from septicemia, or blood poisoning. The little cut was not as harmless as he had carelessly supposed. It had become infected, and now the boy was fighting for his life. So Dr. Satorius sank into a deep depression. He looked at his son and he said, “I can’t even look after my own son; I can’t provide food for my children; my life is a complete mess, and this bondage is something I cannot break.” In his depression, he felt it was better to end it all. In Switzerland, as you may know, all young men do military service (as they do in Singapore). Since he had been an officer in the army, he had his service pistol in his office and he decided to use it. He couldn’t live with himself anymore. He could not overcome his addiction. He said, “I tried again and again to make resolutions.” He tried every technique he knew in medicine to break out of his enslavement to alcohol. He couldn’t. So he said, “Well, the situation is hopeless; the bondage is unbreakable. I will take out my pistol and end it all.”
So Dr. Satorius opened the drawer to take out his gun and then he noticed a Bible lying on top of his gun. In Switzerland there is the state church and everyone is officially a Christian. If you are not a Christian you will have nowhere to be buried, so you had better become a Christian, at least on paper, because it’s a serious problem to have no burial place when one dies. As a member of the state church you go through a ceremony called “confirmation,” and you are given a Bible on that occasion. So he had a Bible that he hadn’t read. Anyway, there it was lying on top of his gun, so he had to remove it before he could get his gun. But since he now had it in his hand, he thought, “Well, I might as well read a verse to myself before I pull the trigger.” So he opened the Bible. Since he didn’t know where to look, he just flipped it open and looked; and he said the words of the Bible hit him right in the eyes: “I am the Lord, your Redeemer.” He said that these were the words that struck him, “I am your Redeemer” (cf. Isaiah 60.16, “I, Yahweh, am your Savior, your Redeemer”). Yahweh God was speaking directly to him through these words.
In English, the word “redeemer” doesn’t mean much to most people because it is rarely, if ever, used in everyday language whether written or spoken; yet that is the word used in most English Bibles. The German, however, is very significant. “Your Redeemer” in German means “Your Liberator, the One who sets you free”. His mouth dropped open in astonishment as the significance of the words, “I, the Lord, am your Liberator,” sunk in. God was speaking straight to him through that Bible. He exclaimed, “That is exactly what I need: a Liberator.” He fell to his knees and said, “Lord, liberate me. Set me free from my bondage. I am destroying my family and now I am going to destroy myself unless You set me free.” It was a cry from the heart. Remember, he was not a religious man. He didn’t know what it is to pray; he only knew how to cry out from his heart. God spoke to him, “I am your Redeemer,” and he responded, “Lord, redeem me.” That is all a person in bondage has to do, indeed, that is all he can do. God doesn’t need you to make a speech; prayer is a cry from the heart for liberation; and God takes the chains off and sets you free.
He said that something happened immediately: he felt the chains falling off. “Suddenly,” he said, “I was free. I didn’t know what happened but I was free. I had struggled for months to be free of this bondage but had failed, and now in that split second I was free.” Medically, he doesn’t know how to understand it, because addiction requires a long period of treatment. How is it possible to be free in an instant? That is humanly impossible; yet now he was truly free. He said he stood up on his feet a new person; God had removed his addiction in one stroke!
But he got more than he expected. He had no more desire for alcohol. But he was changed more than that: God changed his life so fundamentally that he became a preacher. He didn’t quit medicine as far as I know, but wherever he went he testified to the Lord. While I was visiting him, he took me around with him almost daily to various meetings where he testified to what God had done in his life, and preached the gospel.
Some years later, I was in a town in the northern part of Switzerland and I saw the name “Pastor Satorius” on the notice board in front of a church. Now, Satorius is a rare name, and I thought, “Is there a connection between this Pastor Satorius and the Dr. Satorius I met many years ago in the eastern part of Switzerland?” As it turned out, this Pastor Satorius was his son, the one who had blood poisoning. I later heard that he was a well-known pastor in Switzerland. Not only did God set Dr. Satorius free, He also set his family free. The whole family was redeemed. How wonderful are the ways of the Lord!
Dr. Satorius told me that the liberation was so complete that a glass of wine could be put in front of him and it would not attract or tempt him. The desire for it had gone completely. As a medical man, he understood what that meant. Because, as a rule, even if someone could get away from addiction, he is still strongly tempted and is therefore in constant danger of falling back into addiction. A drug addict is still drawn by the old addiction even after he had gone through the whole lengthy process of rehabilitation. He is always in danger of being tempted back to drugs. But the doctor said, “I now have no desire for it whatsoever; it has no attraction for me anymore.” Not only does God liberate us, but the liberation is complete—unless, of course, we choose to go back into bondage even though it has lost its power over us.
Will You Let God Set You Free Too?
Today I have shared from my heart about this wonderful God who has called me to Himself and has given me the privilege of knowing Him, a God of wonders and miracles. God does all these things not to impress anyone but to set us free. Today I hope you will consider the things that hold you in bondage. Bondage is a strange thing. Take our habits, for example. There are many bad habits from which people need to be released. One could say that a bad habit is a form of addiction. Some people, for example, habitually respond to certain situations with anger and a bad temper; they are easily provoked and they also provoke others to tension and conflict. Moodiness can also become habitual, and this can result in living in constant misery. Some negative mental attitudes become habitual, and it is essential that we be freed from these destructive habits—destructive both to ourselves and to others.
In closing I go back to the story I began with, of the shark that never grew beyond six inches in length—that king of the ocean that ended up being a midget, a dwarf, in a fish tank. What kind of a person are you? Are you content with the comfortable bondage in which you live? Are you content with your comfortable routine? Are we so comfortable with our self-serving lives that we don’t care about the multitudes of people who also need to be set free from their bondage and miseries? Or will we say, Lord, I want to know You more. I want to be free from the habit of doing things my way; I want to become the kind of person who will attain the maximum to which You have called me, so that on that day when I see You, I will not be ashamed but will rejoice; and then Jesus will not have died for me in vain.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church